Harvesting is the short period of time when all of your hard work pays off and you can reap the delicious fruits and vegetables you have been nurturing all year. But what do you do with all that fresh produce that you can’t eat or sell straight away? This guide will introduce you to simple tips on preserving foods for use months after harvesting, reducing food wastage and allowing you to enjoy your hard work all year long.
There are a number of ways of preserving foods after harvesting:
Pickles and chutney
Jams and jellies
There are also techniques useful for preserving meat and fish such as smoking and curing.
Pickles and chutneys
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be pickled or added to a chutney to be preserved. What’s more, the process enhances its natural flavours, making it a delicious alternative to eating fresh and is popular with meats, curries and cheeses.
To pickle vegetables, ensure they are moist and in good condition, then soak them in brine and pack with salt for 24 hours to draw out some of the moisture. Next, add to sterile jars and fill entirely with vinegar. The quality of the vinegar will affect the overall taste, with distilled vinegar usually providing the best results. Try this pickling technique with:
Onions- add a teaspoon of sugar and consider using spiced vinegar to create a sharp, sweet overall taste
Eggs- Hard boil, then shell and add to large containers with approx. one litre of vinegar for every dozen eggs
Crunchy cucumbers and cabbage- crunchy vegetables don’t need soaking in brine before adding to vinegar
A good chutney can be made with almost any fruit or vegetable, and likewise, almost any spices, making them a versatile way of preserving any excess fruit or vegetables you may have harvested.
Popular chutney ingredients are:
Spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic, paprika and ginger are popular in chutney making and help to enhance the overall flavour of your produce.
Chutneys are simple to make and plenty of recipes are available online.
Jam making is an effective way of preserving any excess summer fruits, allowing you to enjoy their flavour even on dark winter nights. Use firm, prime quality fruit which will improve the texture of the jam overall.
Pectin is a vital component of a good jam. It is a gelling agent which allows jam to set and occurs naturally in some fruits. If using medium or low-level pectin fruits such as plums, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, melons, peaches, nectarines or rhubarb, you will need to add extra pectin whilst cooking to allow the mixture to set. Pectin can be bought separately in powder form, or obtained by simmering 1kg of chopped, unpeeled cooking apples in water for 20 minutes, then reducing the juice by half. In general, 2 kg of fruit will require 150ml of pectin to set.
Preserving sugar is generally easier to use when jam making but any sugar will do. Brown sugar can be interesting to experiment with as it changes the colour and subtle flavours of the jam.
Plenty of jam recipes are available which include a variety of fruits.
Fruit can be bottled for preservation and bottled fruits are particularly useful in deserts and as snacks. Fruit can be bottled in alcohol, brine or syrup in a process which eliminates bacteria, fungus, mould and viruses. Alcohol has the added benefit of killing these microorganisms on its own, while bottled fruit using syrup and brine will need additional heating.
To preserve fruit in syrup and brine safely, pack sealable jars with the fruit before adding the boiling liquid. Put the lids on loosely and add to a pan of water to simmer at 90°C for half an hour. Remove and leave to cool. If the seal on the jars remains intact, your jars will be safe for months of storage.
Because of the higher temperatures required, it is not recommended that vegetables are bottled at home as they lack the acid levels needed to deactivate harmful bacteria. Freezing vegetables is generally considered to be a safer and more effective way of preserving fresh vegetables at home.
Drying your fruit and vegetables is another way of lengthening their shelf life. It works by depriving unwanted enzymes, bacteria, yeast and fungi of the moisture that they need to grow. Drying can take place in a number of ways and can take varying amounts of time depending on the fruit or vegetable itself and the way it is prepared.
A simple way of drying vegetables and herbs is by hanging them in a dry, dark and ventilated place such as an airing cupboard. A lack of moisture in the air is vital- any humidity can slow down the drying process or worse, allow your food to rot. This process can take around a week but depends on the size and water content of the produce. It is worthwhile checking your vegetables regually- herbs will begin to crumble when dried sufficiently. Fruit and vegetables should be squeezed to see if any juice remains inside them.
Drying vegetables in the sun is an effective preservation technique which helps bring out bold flavours, particularly in tomatoes, peppers and chillies. It can be a tricky process in the UK as a few days of back-to-back sunshine are required, however, if a heatwave strikes, it can be a good opportunity to give this technique a try.
To sun dry your vegetables, slice them and lay them on racks in direct sunlight. Slice tomatoes and peppers in half, and apples into rings. Apples will need to be dipped in a solution of lemon juice, water and a small amount of sugar to prevent them turning brown. Your produce will need to be left for approximately 3 days, but will need to be brought under cover in the evening to prevent them from rehydrating. Once fully dried, the fruit and vegetable pieces can be stored in airtight containers.
Oven drying is an effective way of preserving foods after harvesting. Fruit and vegetables can be sliced and laid on racks in a fan assisted oven, running at around 45-55 degrees C. Air flow can be maintained by propping the oven door open slightly. Different items will require different drying times, with mushrooms taking 4 to 6 hours and apples and pears taking up to 24. While this is an effective method of drying, it requires your oven to run for long periods of time and therefore is not the most environmentally friendly. Using a microwave is a more efficient alternative- wrap your fruit and vegetable slices in paper towels and cook for 1 minute on a high setting to achieve the same result is much less time.
Image sourced: www.wikimedia.orgtagsgardeningorganic foodpreservesself sufficiency